Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200,000 readers More than 30,000 links Updated every Sunday

Noted This Week
Sites new to AO

News Centre
News archive

News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe...
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
Hong Kong
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
About our logo

Support AO
Shop for AO goods
Help support us!
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Can you hear me now?Hallo again to all.

We've written before about Anglicanism as 'a language to be spoken and lived, studied and sung'. A few letters to the editors (some published, some not) followed on this conceptualization of something we'd known only by intuition. Most readers understood what we were driving toward: the notion that we know the world around us—and, in turn, meet and know God—through language and the structured ways of thought it gives us. We were concerned that historic Anglicanism should continue to be a mother tongue; that it should be a fluent, growing language with mutual intelligibility across its local dialects; that it should have a widely-known literature and an effective pedagogy; and that our grammar and vocabulary should be better studied and understood. We were concerned, too, that Anglicanism should be a unifying feature of our Christian life together in the family of churches called the Anglican Communion, whether we worship in Welsh, Igbo, French, English, Maori, Haida or Japanese.

That was some three years and several church conferences ago. Since that time much of what we've experienced in life on the ground in our parishes and national churches has confirmed these initial ideas about how Anglicanism works at its best and worst.

Our vocabulary has remained mostly stable, with words like covenant, process, discernment, fabric, identity, mission, worldwide, and mainstream predominating. (We have still not wrapped our minds completely around the terms indaba and ubuntu, but we would like to if only because those who do tell us they understand these words are very excited about them.) Our grammar has not experienced much of a shift as far as we can tell: scripture, tradition and reason still sustain and give direction to the church communities where they are tapped thoughtfully and sincerely. They give shape to local life in a regular round of word and sacrament, praise and service.

So, too, have our patterns of discourse reached a kind of plateau of development. News reports are ever more formulaic: a parish or diocese acts, and a diocese or province then reacts. A cleric astonishes people four thousand miles away, who react and demand explanation. Explanation is made, and indignation congeals around this priest or bishop for a few weeks until a new source of irritation is found. We know that you know this, and that you, too, have begun to perceive Anglican news in this formulaic way. If Anglican political life provided the plots for a film studio, we're sure that this level of repetition would have made us go out of business long ago.

I can hear you.The area where we have seen marked development in the Anglican language over the last three years is in the sphere of mutual intelligibility. This linguistic concept posits that speakers of one language can understand another language without resorting to unusual effort. For example, standard Malay and standard Indonesian can be understood mutually; so can Danish and Norwegian, and a similar situation obtains between Spanish and Portuguese. The same can no longer, we think, be said honestly about some local expressions of Anglicanism. Although our vocabulary and grammar have remained mostly static, an Anglican from New Zealand can still communicate with one in Wales with nearly perfect mutual comprehension—even if they are speakers of Maori and Welsh. The same cannot now be said about two Spanish-speaking Anglicans, one from California and the other from Argentina.

Most interesting to us is that spiritual and juridical communion are being structured more and more strictly around relationships of mutual intelligibility rather than around the divine gift of baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The linguistic metaphor must ultimately fail as a way of forming ideal relationships of Christian communion. The best models of communion we know would tell us that if A is in communion with B, and B is in communion with C, A and C are in communion with one another. However, this is not how languages work. Speakers of A may understand B, and speakers of B may understand C, but this need not have any bearing on whether speakers of A and C understand one another. It's the Facebook communion all over again.

We write to describe what we see rather than to provide answers. But we hope that you, as our Christian friends and siblings in a church where conversation, listening, clarification and response have become ends of their own rather than means toward any end, will consider and weigh the implications of breakdown in the Anglican dialect continuum. A plurality of AO readers come from a country in which a simple, hospitable question may be asked in all of these ways:

Yinz eat yet? (Pittsburgh)*
Have you had dinner? (New York City)
Did y'all have supper? (parts of the American South)
You ate? (parts of northern New Jersey)

This wide diversity of expression about the most basic of matters only keeps from tearing a nation apart when non-linguistic cues of warmth, invitation, a set table and intangible generosity supply what is lacking in words or structure. Within the Anglicanophone world, we can still pull back from the apparent brink of mutual unintelligibility if we will see that the table is spread by One who is both other than and wholly like ourselves. The bravest of today's missionary-linguists will be those who show us this truth in ways truly 'understanded of the people'.

O let thy table honored be,
and furnished well with joyful guests;
and may each soul salvation see
that here its sacred pledges tastes.

See you next week. It's time for dinner.

Our signature
All of us here at Anglicans Online

Last updated: 19 October 2008

* This phrase can be variously rendered Yunzeatyet? or Djeat yet?; like much of Pittsburghese, it is not easily reduced to writing. Don't be ascared.

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page. ©2008 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to